Louisiana passes "crucial test of the Voting Rights Act" by going to Federal court
Word out of New Orleans yesterday was that the Louisiana state house plan has been precleared by the Department of Justice. The article quotes a Lousiana legislative leader as stating this is the first time any initial redistricting plan has ever been precleared by DOJ since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act. If true, this is a testament to the Republican legislative majority and the strategy of going to Federal court to hold DOJ's feet to the fire.
The Washington Post reported earlier that the civil rights community saw this as the "crucial test of the Voting Rights Act." Of course, the plan was wholly unacceptable to an assortment of liberal interest groups even though the plan actually increased black representation in the face of decrease in the New Orleans black population due to Hurricane Katrina. The one-sided media storm showed that when many liberal interest groups cry foul, they are actually crying wolf, and their real goal was to overtly pressure DOJ to use the civil rights laws to their partisan advantage.
The fact that Louisiana simultaneously submitted its plan to the U.S. District Court in Washington on a parallel litigation path resulted in more timely approval and less nit-picking by DOJ of minor details of a perfectly acceptable (but not NAACP endorsed) plan. The strategy provided an appropriate degree of pressure on the Voting Section to prevent political interference by liberal interest groups, and even the Obama political leadership itself at the Civil Rights Division.
This common sense strategy to go to Federal court actually streamlined the preclearance review process in both Virginia and Louisiana. By going to court, Louisiana helped prevent the type of undue influence exerted by interest groups that was found in Miller v. Johnson to have resulted in the Civil Rights Division unlawfully pressuring jurisdictions in the maximization of minority seats.
Unable to shield their analysis from the sunlight, the Voting Section attorneys do not want to be in a position where they would have to explain to a Federal court unique theories on retrogression, justify cryptic findings of discrimination, or defend against real or perceived political interference that would reveal itself in litigation.
Instead, the Voting Section was required to do a realistic analysis of the redistricting plans that would almost certainly be reviewed by a panel of federal judges or the next step of review - the Supreme Court.
The Voting Section knows that Section 5 hangs in the balance for constitutional reasons and that overstepping may well result in a constitutional challenge and mean the end of the control they now exert over voting changes in the South.
Not surprising, the Washington Post described the decision to go to Federal Court by the first two Section 5 states involved with this decade's redistricting as an "unusual strategy.” Actually, It is a smart and prudent strategy. The mainstream media fails to recognize that states have no faith in the Department of Justice to do the right or fair thing on the issues such as voter ID or citizen verification much less state redistricting plans that will impact them directly. This lack of faith is directly attributed to the highly partisan and suspect leadership of the head of the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez and AG Holder.
With this success, there is a possibility that every Section 5 state on deck will either utilize the dual path preclearance process that has worked so effectively for Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana or go solely to Federal court, bypassing entirely the administrative review process at DOJ.
It seems the unusual strategy has already reaped some unusual and significant dividends, including the first ever Louisiana redistricting plan adopted right out the gate since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.